Returning for Sense8 season two right now might be disorienting, coming nearly two years after season one was released on Netflix, if it weren’t for the Christmas special, an early airing of the first two hours that became available on December 23, 2016. However, because that double episode had trouble finding an anchor, being separated from the rest of the season by over four months itself, there might be some trepidation returning to the show after so long. Will it live up to its stellar first season? Will the lustre have come off of the innovative filming style, switching seamlessly between characters on multiple continents?
Thankfully, the magic is still there in Sense8 season two. While some viewers come to the series to be inspired by the transcendent mental bond shared by the eight strangers, and others love the message surrounding the acceptance of people’s differences and the globalist view of its themes, many also respect the Wachowskis’ artistic vision and cinematic style while others simply enjoy the narrative elements of this science fiction conspiracy tale. Whatever the reason they watch, viewers will find that Sense8 season two feels more like an extension of season one than a new chapter, smoothly keeping the same pace and using the same visual language, whether in the mind-to-mind visitations that have people suddenly appearing from outside the frame or in the incredible action sequences that utilise all the various skills of the cluster members.
This is true, in fact, despite the fact that one of the characters has a new look. Having introduced Toby Onwumere as Capheus in the Christmas special with a tongue-in-cheek reference to his new face, the new actor integrates perfectly with the established group. He brings the same optimistic joy to the character who appreciates life despite an impoverished existence in Kenya, and Capheus shares a particularly inspirational speech with Lito while both are being interviewed about controversies in their past. Although his individual story takes awhile to get going, Capheus goes down quite an unpredictable path in season two while still serving as getaway driver for the cluster during a particularly exciting escape.
Another new character outside of the group that really adds to the underlying conspiracy tale involving Whispers and BPO this season is Bug, played by Michael X Sommers. Bug’s assistance as a computer expert not only provides a different angle to Nomi’s hacking sequences; he also provides welcome comic relief as he becomes more and more deeply involved in the story of the “homo sensorium.” He’s like the awkward, nerdy counterpoint to Amanita’s more confident support, and his enjoyment of the mission he’s been drawn into is infectious.
What was that about “homo sensorium,” you ask? This new scientific label for what essentially is a branched species of the human race fleshes out the explanation for why these mentally-linked clusters exist and why organizations like BPO seek to destroy them. With Whispers having made eye contact with Will in the final moments of season one, the danger is ramped up while the foundation is laid for the reasoning behind the evolutionary change. Additionally, the introduction of national security concerns surrounding humans who can mentally project themselves lends just the right illustrative opposition to the globalist viewpoint of the show.
And speaking of Will, his decision to keep himself in a drug-induced haze to keep Whispers at bay made the situation for his character and the larger cluster seem hopeless, especially in the Christmas special. Just as Agent Bendix keeps Nomi caged, Will is unable to leave Riley’s care for fear of being captured, killed, or lobotomized. The drama that unfolds — in quite surprising ways as it turns out — as Whispers tries to find where Will is hiding while Will uses his investigative powers to ferret out Whispers is a highlight of the opening episodes and leads to some fascinating places throughout season two.
The motivations for BPO and the nature of homo sensorium aren’t the only new tricks up Sense8’s sleeve. Viewers should also be prepared to find out more about Jonas’ origins as well as details about how his cluster was hunted down by Whispers. And guess what else? There are plenty of other clusters out there that we haven’t even met yet! That’s about to change in season two as well, and the results add real depth to the already rich tapestry of the show.
Some stories remain comfortably familiar, though, such as Lito’s continuing fight to maintain an acting career in a hostile entertainment industry and Sun’s attempt to strike back against her murderous brother who disdained her sacrifice in taking the fall for embezzlement. Wolfgang is still embroiled in German organised crime, and Kala is still trying to reconcile her affection for Wolfgang with her marriage into a luxuriously wealthy family. These familiar stories provide the anchor that was missing in the Christmas special, pulling viewers right back into the narrative as though two years hadn’t passed since season one.
With eight main characters, there are always going to be moments when a particular thread is muted or underserved. Riley in particular takes a while to establish her own storyline. Some might argue that Tuppence Middleton as Riley and Doona Bae as Sun are the acting MVPs of the cast, especially when emotional scenes are called for, and while Sun gets a great storyline with plenty of action sequences, Riley, whose arc had just become interesting in the waning moments of season one, takes a few episodes to diverge from the role of Will’s caretaker.
In the end, Sense8 season two keeps everything that made its first season successful and takes it up a notch. While some may find the LGBT message heavy-handed, it honestly works perfectly with a story that includes characters from almost every continent — how else to communicate a message of global inclusiveness through the evolution of the species? Far from unrealistically seeking to buy the world a Coke, Sense8 instead tells a story of what would happen if our minds were linked and we could no longer lie. If words bring war, then it’s appropriate that Sense8 uses its artistic visuals and immersive storytelling instead to weave a compelling tale with such heartfelt meaning behind it.
Sense8 season 2 is out now on Netflix.